Dr. Dorothy I Height and Polly Cowan, Co- Founders of Wednesdays In Mississippi
Dr. Dorothy Irene Height died early this morning at age 98. One of the great leaders of the American Civil Rights Movement, her activism, passion, brilliance and determination changed the lives of millions. She was also my my mother's great friend and colleague. Our family loved Dr. Height, and will miss her deeply.
WEDNESDAYS IN MISSISSIPPI WEBSITE
I direct you to my sister, Holly Shulman's, excellent website documenting the Civil Rights Organization, Wednesdays In Mississippi, founded by Dr. Height and our mother, Polly Spiegel Cowan
From the Wednesdays In Mississippi Website. Click image to link.
Wednesdays In Mississippi mostly worked
in secret in order to protect the women who participated, whose lives
could be in danger from the mission.
"Secret Project in Mississippi- Interracial meeting of Women" NY York Herald Tribune, 1964. From The Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College. Click image to link.
New York Herald Tribune, Aug. 30, 1964 By Dick Schaap, City Editor:
They met secretly, these few white women and Negro women of Jackson Miss., in a business office on a border street separating Negro and white residential sections, because the white women were afraid to bring Negros into their home and afraid, too, to go to Negro Homes. Their fear, of course, was of retaliation from the white community. Their interracial meetings were inspired by a project called Wednesdays in Mississippi, a secret project revealed only yesterday, that over the past two months quietly brought into Mississippi 48 Northern women, white and Negro, many of them socially prominent. The mood of these meetings, encouraged by the Northern visitors to help 'build a bridge' between Jackson Negro and white women, was expressed best, perhaps, in the frank remarks of one local white woman who attended. " My husband would kill me if he knew I were here." she said. "But he's a wonderful guy."" These (white) women are living through a frightening, schizophrenic experience," Dr. Hanna A. Levin, of Maplewood, NY, an assistant professor of psychology at Rutgers University, said yesterday.
Mrs Levin was the leader of Team Seven, the last of the Northern teams- drawing women from New York, New Jersey, Boston, Washington, Baltimore, Chicago, Minneapolis and St. Paul - to make an excursion to Mississippi. Six of the teams had seven members; one team had six members: every team had at least two Negros on it.
The Northern visitors included Mrs. Robert B. Meyner, wife of the former governor of New Jersey; Mrs. Jerome B. Weisner, wife of the Dean Of Science at Massachusetts Instititute Of Technology; Mrs. August Hecksher, wife of the director of the Twentieth Century Fund, Inc., Mrs. Robert S. Benjamin, wife of the chairman of the board of United Artists Corp.; Mrs. Dorothy I. Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women; Mrs. Edward L. Ryerson jr., daughter -in- law of the former chairmn of the board of Inland Steel Co, and the overall project coordinator, Mrs. Louis G. Cowan, wife of the director of the Communications Research Center at Brandeis University.
Each team flew into Mississippi on a Tuesday - the last group landed on Aug. 18- spent Tuesday night in Jackson, spend Wednesday visiting Freedom Schools and other facilities set up by the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) in such towns as Meridan, Hattiesburg, Ruleville, Canton and Vicksburg, went back to Jackson Wednesday night and returned home on Thursday.
The Negro members of the teams always stayed in private Negro homes. The white members of the fist five teams stayed in motels. Then, as the group slowly acquired contacts in the white community, the white members of the last two teams found lodging in private white homes. Wednesdays In Mississippi employed a paid staff of three women - two white and one Negro - who spent the entire two months in Mississippi.
Many of the visitors paid their own way to Mississippi but a majority were subsidized, at least in part, by such organizations as The National Council Of Negro Women, The YWCA, The National Council Of Jewish Women, The National Council of Catholic Women, The League Of Women Voters and several church groups.
Each woman was briefed by Mrs. Cowan before she left, given background reading material - including the speech by Mississippi Prof. James Silvester (Silver) which lead to his book, "Mississippi: The Closed Society" and a pamphlet called "Behind The Cotton Curtain" - then was debriefed by Mrs. Cowan when she returned. The debriefings were tape recorded.
From the Wednesdays In Mississippi Film Project:
"However, it was on Thursdays that the quiet revolution took root. This
was when the “Wednesdays Women” put on their white gloves and pearls and
secretly met with Black and White Mississippi women. In living rooms
over tea and cookies the Southern women openly discussed their fears and
suspicions about the civil rights movement. Many, for the first time,
voiced their support for change. At that time in Mississippi, mixing
with outsiders had dire consequences. Yet the women came, they
listened and their hearts and minds began to open. Their clandestine
meetings became the catalyst for great change."
Dr. Dorothy I. Height was also a fashion icon. She could really wear a hat! Photo by H. Darr Beiser, USA Today, 2008
January 18, 2010.
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) President Obama and Dr, Dorothy I Height
At Dr. Dorothy I Height's funeral, April 29, 2010, President Obama cries. I love this photo and the fact that Obama was so moved by such a great woman.
For a comprehensive look at WIMS please go to: Wednesdays In Missisippi website
and The WIMS Film Project
And this, From Laura Flanders, GritTV